Valley Plaza on Ice

PERSPECTIVE-A recent article in the Toluca Lake-North Hollywood Patch brought back fond memories of a local neighborhood shopping center that once attracted the middle class of the San Fernando Valley.

I am not an old-timer as far as direct experience with Los Angeles history is concerned, but I do remember Valley Plaza and adjacent Laurel Plaza as at least moderately thriving centers. Sears, Robinsons-May, the United Artist movie theaters, along with assorted small retail outlets, were convenient alternatives to schlepping to the mega malls cropping up across the region.

There was recreation, too.  The Ice Capades Chalet was a place to cool off and hold birthday parties for kids.

There is little evidence of the district’s golden years today.  Macy’s is the only business worth mentioning in what has become the armpit of Council District 2.

It is ironic that it took an outsider to shine the light on blight that has overtaken the former mall and its surroundings.  Mitt Romney used it as a backdrop to criticize President Obama’s economic policies.  

Romney was off base on the target of his criticism - the White House played no role in the demise of the shopping center, or any other - but at least he reminded us that there has been no progress on addressing what has to be the most notorious example of failed local government in CD2.

It is noteworthy that Council Member Paul Krekorian was upset by Romney’s visit, but it took the Republican candidate’s visit to get CD 2′s representative to publicly comment on the embarrassment that is right outside his office near Victory and Laurel Canyon.

Krekorian was upset by Romney’s upstaging him on this most local of local issues; so upset that he retreated to the inner sanctum of his office afterwards and has since been silent on the matter. It is ironic that he accused Chris Essel of being an outsider in their bitter contest for the council seat (by the way, so did I and I am glad she lost), because it took an outsider to get Krekorian to even talk about what might be happening with Laurel Plaza.

Will it take a visit by Newt Gingrich to make Krekorian come out again and update us?
Heaven help us if it gets to that.

Krekorian talks of a developer turning the shopping area around.  Talk – we’ve heard that before.

We don’t really know what deal is in the works because he is not involving the neighborhood councils who would have a vested  interest in the plans – Valley Glen, Valley Village and, especially, all of the North Hollywood councils.  The residents of CD2′s southern portion do not want to be left in the dark on such an important land use decision as it appears Sunland-Tujunga was on an SB1818 project [link] in the north.

Mayoral candidate Austin Beutner had an interesting suggestion, not specifically about Valley Plaza, but about rebuilding in general. He favors dumping the bullet train and instead plowing funds into the crumbling infrastructure and blight spreading throughout the city and state. $100 billion of investment in local business, roads and regional transportation over thirty years  just might make a difference, more so than on a rail system whose finances definitely do not pan out.

There is no discussion of alternative uses for the property other than mixed use retail/residential, [link] a tired, quick fix formula that depends on consumerism and housing, two segments of the economy that helped drag the nation into recession and are making it difficult for it to recover.

We have enough malls in the region offering jobs that pay retail wages. If you want mixed use development, the nearby NoHo Arts community already offers it.

We need to  take a different path, even if it takes a long time, or we will simply produce another failure that can only survive by cannibalizing business from other areas. That’s a no-win strategy for the region.

There is no quick fix to this mess, but that’s what career politicians always chase because it helps them in their next campaigns.

Let’s agree to attract manufacturing and even transportation to the solution.  Imagine a short extension of the Red and Orange Lines to Victory and Laurel Canyon offering more than ample parking for commuters currently limited by the inadequate lot at Lankershim and Chandler.

Centers for education could play a role in a comeback - for example, extensions for UCLA, USC and Cal State Northridge could attract desirable businesses.

How about local sports and recreation? Not just outdoor playing fields, but indoor facilities, too.  That thought brings back memories.

I recall one evening when my daughter was at the Ice Capades Chalet practicing for a figure skating competition .  It was a private session for coaches and their skaters scheduled right before the public entry time.  I watched as Jeni took the ice and was relieved there was only one other skater present.

She could then practice her moves without dodging others doing the same.

It was then I recognized the coach of the other skater. She was none other than Tai Babilonia, a former Olympic pairs competitor whose dream of an Olympic medal was dashed when her partner, Randy Gardner, injured himself in practice.

I then noticed a man standing at the edge of the rink videotaping the practice session.  He was obviously focusing on Tai’s very young student. Perhaps it was the little girl’s first lesson and he was a proud dad who wanted to capture the milestone for posterity.

He lowered the recorder and stared out at the girl. He displayed a wide grin and offered a few words of encouragement to the tot.  It was Jack Nicholson.

We exchanged greetings and both of us went back to the business of watching our young daughters practice.

It is reasonable to assume that my daughter is included in one of Mr. Nicholson’s home videos.

Ice Capades Chalet was a treasure and provided an accessible and affordable form of recreation for the community. It was torn down to make way for a proposed retail center, the first of a few failed plans for the property. Another strike against quality of life.

It is time we learn from our mistakes and demand that our elected representatives involve their constituents in the redevelopment process. They are doomed to repeat past mistakes without our input.

We are the people who will have to live with the land use decisions of our officials long after they start drawing their public pensions.

We deserve a say.

(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as Treasurer for the Neighborhood Council Valley Village.  He blogs at Village to Village, contributes to CityWatch and can be reached at:  phinnoho@aol.com) –cw

Tags: Paul Hatfield, Valley Plaza, Mitt Romney, Paul Krekorian, CD2

Vol 10 Issue 7
Pub: Jan 24, 2012